Sept. 13, 2013
Jarrett Mackey: Creating His Own Legacy
By Pam Flenke, Army Athletic Communications
Upon stepping foot inside Michie Stadium in the summer of 2009, Jarrett Mackey immediately inherited an incredible responsibility. Mackey was donned "the next Josh McNary". The 6-foot-2, 225-pound plebe was to follow in the footsteps of the rising junior defensive end who was among the best tacklers in the country and would go on to finish his West Point career with a bevy of program records, including the highest career totals of quarterback sacks and tackles for a loss.
Bring it on. That was Mackey's mindset as he played behind McNary in 2009 before lining up alongside him during the Black Knights' 2010 campaign which included Army's first bowl game win since 1985.
As a child, Mackey's parents, Myrna and Wendell, elected to send him to school early, meaning he was always a little younger and undersized compared to his classmates. What may be considered a shortcoming to some, proved to be a motivator for Jarrett.
"I was always told I was too small, too slow, or too weak," said Mackey. "It made me train harder, worker harder and study harder."
And that's exactly what he did as the 2011 season approached. With McNary graduated and the spotlight shining on him, Mackey was ready to make a name for himself.
Then it happened. The Black Knights opened their much-anticipated season at Northern Illinois on Sept. 3. Mackey was sharing the field with his brother, A.J., for the first time. Their parents had traveled to the game to see their boys play, but it wasn't as an impressive of a debut as everyone had hoped. At halftime, Army found itself in a deep hole to the Huskies.
Mackey, in his own words, was having an "okay game" - he had three tackles credited to him, half the number of his career best, but he and his teammates on defense were caught off guard by NIU's game tempo. Army was finding itself playing out of position constantly, causing a degree of chaos.
After finding himself on the wrong end of a double-team block, an Army defender rolled into Mackey's left knee. Mackey heard a pop and fell to the ground. Unable to get back up, he knew it was bad. He knew his season was over.
"It was sad. I felt demoralized after all that hard work," Mackey recalled. "To have to sit on the sidelines and not be able to go in there and help; it was a whole rush of emotions. I knew I had a long road to come back, but it's all good. Everything happens for a reason."
After discussing his options with the coaches, trainers and military mentors, Mackey decided to head home to Georgia to rehab. Upon his return, Mackey received some surprising news.
"It was our first team meeting and Coach Ellerson came up and told me that the guys had voted and elected me as legacy captain; he said I won it hands down. It was a blessing. I tried to connect with every guy on that team, including the seniors who were about to graduate, but I never knew they thought of me to that degree. I thought of the great guys in my class like Trent Steelman and Nate Combs, and to know that I've influenced my teammates that much so that they see me as someone capable of leading this team was an amazing feeling."
Mackey admits that he was not at full strength during the 2012 season. The rehab on his knee was taking longer than he had hoped, so he tasked senior Zach Watts with taking the reins on defense.
"It was humbling; the nature of my injury and how my recovery, both mentally and physically, was going slower than I thought it would, but I told Zach I'd be there to support him," Mackey said. "I also knew that this offseason was going to be crucial for me, and it has been."
Mackey spent the summer of 2013 at Camp Buckner doing Cadet Leader Development Training (CLDT), and in between 24-hour security detail, found time to work on his game.
"I know the coaches wanted to change me to the whip position, so I really needed to work on my mobility, strength and agility," he explained. "My classmates at Buckner saw me and my teammates sacrifice my mornings off or my days off to go work out. It surprised a lot of them. They would say to me, 'Man, I didn't know you guys were putting in that much work,' because we never complained about it. It helped the other guys who aren't on the football team maybe clear up some negative perceptions of Army football players."
With the 2013 season quickly approaching, it was that time of year once again to choose team captains. And once again, Mackey was elected legacy captain. After learning of his second appointment, Mackey reflected on the most recent two-time captain, Stephen Anderson.
"Stephen was a captain my freshman and sophomore years. He went down with an injury at Air Force, took a semester off and came back and didn't miss a beat. The guys respected him for that. On top of being great at football, he's an amazing people-person. He was a real vocal leader and had the ability to interact with everyone on the team. It's tough to put it all in one sentence, all of his intangibles that made him a great leader. He taught me a lot about perseverance and keeping your head up. I still talk to him all the time."
Using Anderson as the example, Mackey has worked on his skills as being a vocal and charismatic leader, something he believes is crucial as a football captain and for his future in the U.S. Army.
"Out at CLDT this summer I was able to use a lot of the skills I learned on the football field to better myself as a soldier. Coach Ellerson always tells us that people on athletic teams make the best officers. The skills it takes to keep 150 guys on the football team on one track and to get something accomplished has made me more secure in the transition to being a successful leader in the Army. I used so many of those techniques and tips I've gathered from being a football team captain to being a platoon leader."
Now with his final season at West Point upon him, Mackey is ready to show everyone that he's not Josh McNary or Stephen Anderson or any other former Army standout. He's ready to write his own story and create his own legacy.
"I always wanted to make a name for myself like Josh and Steve and Mike Gann. I wanted to be like them when I became a senior, but I think I've made a good name for myself too. I may not have the stats like those guys, but within the locker room and on the practice field I know that my teammates have the same level of respect for me that I had for those guys. And when it's all said and done, I know I'll be happy with how everything ends up."
As for how he hopes things end up this season, he wants to see his brothers on the team develop and persevere through the struggles and accomplish great things: beat Navy, beat Air Force and return to a bowl game.
Mackey, who branched Quartermaster, will report to BOLC (Basic Officer Leader Course) in February, aiming for a spot in ranger school. He'll be stationed at Hunter Airfield in Savannah, Ga., and from there, as he put it, "hopefully do great things in the U.S. Army."
Mackey has seen incredible highs and lows since coming to West Point - from being compared to one of the most successful defensive players in program history, to being a member of a bowl championship team, to suffering a traumatic and life-altering injury, to working hard to get back to his true form, it certainly hasn't been an easy ride for the Snellville, Ga., native. But after a long four years he's ready to emerge.
When asked if there was one phrase he lives by, after thinking about it for a moment, Mackey replied, "Write your future." The future Mackey is creating for himself will without a doubt be filled with more highs and lows, but as long as his teammates and fellow soldiers in the Army can count on him, he'll consider himself successful.
"I've worked hard and made it to where I am today because of that," he said. "I've made the best out of what I could with what I have, and if the people around me can look at me and say the same thing, then I know I've created a legacy I can be proud of."